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The pandemic has impacted friendships – and men are worried about it

By Abi Jackson
Worried the pandemic’s damaged your friendships? A third (38%) of UK men fear they’ve lost friendships over the past year that they’ll never get back, according to figures from men’s health charity Movember released today.

This coincides with the start of Mental Health Awareness Week – and the importance of friendships to our mental wellbeing is huge.
“Having strong social connections has a major influence on our long-term health and wellbeing. Spending time with your mates and having people to rely on in a crisis is good for everyone,” says Movember CEO, Michelle Terry.

The charity surveyed 3,000 men. In addition, 42% said they felt more distant from friends compared with before the pandemic, and 36% said they felt lonely more often. Over half (58%) agreed they’d been experiencing poor wellbeing, with 29% meeting the WHO criteria for depression.

There is a flipside to this. For some, the pandemic may have been a chance to reassess which connections are actually most important to us. Perhaps some friendships will evolve or drift off as a result, which may not always be a bad thing. But the role of friends and social connections really can’t be overlooked – and there’s science to back this up.

Psychologists at Brigham Young University in Utah reviewed research around this in 2010, for example, and found people with strong social connections increased their chance of survival over a certain time period by 50% (on a par with quitting smoking). Having friends around can also lower our stress responses and, as one study found, their presence makes difficult experiences easier.
Bottom line though, you probably don’t need a PhD to know friends are key for health and happiness.

Is this striking a chord? Feeling disconnected from friends can really get us down, so what next? Here’s seven things we’re trying to keep in mind right now…
1. Go easy on yourself and each other
Had to drop some friendship balls this past year? Zoom fatigue was real! And not everyone feels good being glued to WhatsApp. Not to mention the fact we’ve been dealing with epic challenges plus lockdown restrictions. Go easy.

2. Do things that give you a boost
Has feeling disconnected dented your confidence? Giving yourself a boost is a helpful place to start. Exercise, music, fresh air, and a good laugh.

3. Reach out
Waiting for those invitations to roll in? Could you make the first move and reach out?

4. Start small
End-of-lockdown overwhelm is creeping in for lots of us. Yep, we can’t wait to get to the pub. But at the same time… it’s all a bit much! Be prepared to start small, maybe a couple of hours, and ask your mates how they’re feeling about it.

5. Be flexible
By the same token, remember it doesn’t have to be a pub or restaurant right away or every time. Game of tennis? Bike ride? Coffee and a wander?

6. Be patient
Really missing the bestie you’ve not seen for ages? Us too. But we’re probably all going to need to be a bit patient. People may not have seen their family all year. They may be taking things slow to protect their own wellbeing. When it does happen, that hug is going to feel so good.

7. Be open to new connections too
Being grateful for cherished old friends doesn’t mean we can’t still be open to new connections too. In fact, this could be a really healthy thing. Any local groups you could join? Could an app, like MeetUp or Bumble BFF, be something to explore? Maybe that neighbour you became pally with during lockdown one would appreciate an invitation for a pint?
(PA)

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